ACC Roundtable Roundup #2

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Welcome to the roundup of this week’s ACC Roundtable. Our esteemed panelists for this week are Myself, BC Interruption, Block C, College Game Balls, From Old Virginia, Gobbler Country, and The Legacy x4.

Okay, first things first: could someone please explain what the hell just happened this past Saturday?

The general consensus here is that the events of Saturday are less unexpected than at first glance. Sure, Wake, UNC, and Virginia Tech may have all been ahead in the standings. But, as From Old Virginia points out, those were all conference road games, which are never, ever easy.

BC Interruption sees the reason for the ACC’s “fluctuation” has less to do with the teams themselves and more to do with that the media “is easily distracted by shiny things” and constantly re-assesses the state of the conference from week to week.

College Game Balls, however, may have the best answer of anyone:

Heather Dinich used her Greek Goddess abilities to flip the league on top of its head, again.

Dinich bathes in the schadenfreude emanating from the ACC. Of course, CGB’s statement requires the suspension of disbelief that Ms. Dinich has abilities, is Greek, or is anything close to Godliness.

I happen to be of the belief that what happened last Saturday was less a product of superstition and more a product of the three offenses scoring nineteen combined points in regulation. An extra fourteen, of course, came courtesy of Chris Crane throwing to Hokies.

Block C takes his answer in another direction, answering what happened to Clemson against Georgia Tech. The saga of their beloved Tigers’ season is enough to fill a book. Hopefully, it has a happy ending with a new, smashingly successful coach. Wait, did I just use the word smashing?

Good Maryland, Bad Maryland, we’ve seen a fair share of both in 2008. Good Maryland may be the best team in the ACC, while Bad Maryland could probably lose by 20 to anyone left on their schedule. Which Maryland do we see for the rest of the season and where do you expect the Terps to finish?

No one on the panel is particularly optimistic about the Terps for the rest of the season. Currently at 5-2, No one except me expects them to do any better than 8-4, and everyone expects the Bad Terps to show up at least once. Most panelists, like From Old Virginia and The Legacy x4, point out their now-backloaded schedule will keep them from winning more than 3 games. Both Virginia Tech panelists mentioned that the Bad Terps usually show up on the road, while the Good Terps come out of the shell at home. (Hooray for more bad puns!) Most interestingly, Gobbler country discusses Maryland big weakness:

The key for the Terps this year has been their rush defense. If you can run on Maryland, you can beat them handily. But if they stop you from running the ball, things aren’t going to go well for you.

Whatever the case may be, the Roundtable is unanimously bursting Maryland’s Atlantic bubble.

Injuries are a part of college football, but they seem to have ravaged ACC offenses this year. Wake Forest has been without Sam Swank, Clemson is without C.J. Spiller, UNC is without T.J. Yates and Brandon Tate, Virginia Tech is without Kenny Lewis Jr., and NC State is without just about everybody. Which team misses their fallen star(s) most and why?

There seem to be two distinct camps here. Both BC Interruption and College Game Balls say that the conference’s most costly offensive injury is the one to Wake’s Sam Swank, the closest thing to an automatic kicker in college football and a big difference in close games. Which makes sense, until you consider that is reasonable to expect the Wake Forest offense, with all its talent, to score more than one TD in three conference game. Then there’s the factor that Wake’s defense usually keeps them in every game and–

You get the idea.

From old Virginia goes a different direction and points to the gradual loss of staff in Virginia Tech’s offense that has led, in part, to their 110th ranked offense. (And UNC gave up a 14 point lead to it? Yeesh.)  On defense, FoV references the injury to BC linebacker Brian Toal.

With four votes, however, the player whom the panel thinks is missed the most is UNC quarterback T.J. Yates. This completely florred me, not because it isn’t a good answer but because I never expected my conference brethren to have any sympathy toward the injuries of my beloved Tar Heels. Then again, I probably probably shouldn’t confuse sympathy with acknowledgement.

The primary reason seems to be, despite the admirable job that Cam Sexton has done in his stead, that the Heels just plain don’t lose that game of Virginia Tech if Yates had remained healthy. And that’s probably true. But that throws into question all of the other games that followed. Of course, if we have the same 5-2 record but with losses to Miami and Notre Dame instead of those teams from the Commonwealth, we’re probably in much better shape in the conference race.

Last one: the pretty much unanimous division champs were Virginia Tech and Wake Forest last week. Given all the craziness that just happened, give us your updated ACC Championship scenario.

But enough about my team. With two losses to teams ahead of them in the division, it would take a miracle for UNC to win the Costal at this point.

Many panelists (CGB, Gobbler Country, BC Interruption, and The Legacy x4) are opting for homerism and picking their own teams to go to Tampa. Fortunately for them Virginia Tech, Boston College and Georgia Tech are three of the teams in better position to win. Both BC and GT have daunting schedules, though, and the Jackets would lose any tiebreakers with the Hokies. Despite the Terps’ lights-out performance this past Saturday, no one has the guts to put Maryland in the Championship game as of yet (see Question 2). Of all the CG predictions, my own FSU-Miami pick was probably the most ambitious, and while I had reason to defense the pick, it ultimately boiled down to “this conference is crazy”.

In the final tallies, though, it’s 2.5 votes for Georgia Tech, 3.5 vote for Virginia Tech, 1 vote for Miami, 3 votes for Boston College, 2 votes for Florida State, and 2 votes for Wake Forest.

No team won a majority, but the plurality points to a rematch of last year’s championship game between Virginia Tech and Boston College.

You can almost feel the cynicism oozing out of your screen right now.

If you are an enterprising ACC blogger and are interested in joining the roundtable, just send an email with a link to your site. The more panelists, the merrier.

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OMG We’re 5-2 the Season Is Ruined AHHHHHH

In the last 48 hours, UNC fans have, er, what’s a delicate way to put this…LOST THEIR FREAKING MINDS over UNC’s loss to Virginia on Saturday. Most on the message have been asking a lot of questions, all circling around the same theme: WHO’S TO BLAME?!?

Most of the blame has been put on the coaches. Everett Withers for the prevent defense that allowed the tying touchdown, John Shoop for not putting the game away when he had the chance and Butch Davis for kneeling with 47 seconds to play in a tie game.

Some of this criticism is justified. The type of offense that teams tend to run in a 2-minute drill has usually been the type that UNC’s defense has been weakest in defending, dating all the way back to the Rutgers game. It strikes me as odd, to say the least, that our top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks only touched the ball once in the first half. And it’s particularly baffling to kneel when UNC did given that, just last week, UNC was able to gain 46 yards in 30 seconds against Notre Dame in a very similar situation to end the first half. Adding to the unrest is that the fans, myself included, so desperately wanted to win THIS game, to shed the demons of Charlottesville in the George Welsh era. (Let it be known that before Welsh, UVa football was flat-out bad. One winning season in the previous 29 years bad. Since 1983, when the streak started, the Cavs have had 22 winning seasons out of 25. This, more than anything else, is why we haven’t won at UVa in 14 tries.)

But what’s so frustrating about this game is also one of the biggest positives that fans should take away from it: the Heels played, to put it kindly, average football yet were still in control of this game for 58 minutes. We now have a true running game with the combination of Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston. The goal for the defense coming into this game was to contain the running game, and they did just that. And on Saturday we were able to maintain control for most of the game, even though we never led by more that 7 points.

I still doubt that our receiving corps is an issue. We still have two great, experienced receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster. The most obvious difference on offense without Brandon Tate is that, coupled with the injury to T.J. Yates, the Heels no longer have the deep passing threat they had earlier in the year. However, our new found running game should give the ability to run playfakes and get receivers more open downfield, so the margin for error is greater if John Shoop were inclined to make Cam throw deep.

One type of offensive play that was strangely absent was the one-step drop throw to Nicks that has been so effective for the last season and a half. I understand if the Heels tried to give the ball to Nicks in those situations, and VIrginia were to anticipate and stop the play. However, thaty never seemed to try the play with Nicks. The few times they ran the play, it would often be to Cooter Arnold or Greg Little, neither of whom are very experienced at the WR position.

As for the defense, understand the the soft zone coverage has been Everett Withers’ defense of choice all season, regardless of circumstance. That is why, through seven games of the season, the Heels haven’t put that much pressure on opposing QBs and given up more passing yardage than most fans are comfortable with. That is also the reason why UNC had the most interceptions and the highest turnover margin in the nation through six games. It has been effective for us in 93% of game situations. However, for the two minute drill this type of defense plays right into the offense’s hands. (It almost makes you wonder why teams don’t play the 2-minute offense against us for the entire game.) The Heels were bailed out by well-timed turnovers that ended the chances for Miami and Notre Dame to score in the final seconds. Not so in this game. While it is true that the Heels need to change their 2-minute defense, for the rest of the game it’s been working justfinethankyouverymuch.

Finally, the issue of turnovers. Give credit where credit is due: the Cavaliers made sure to take caare of the ball, never really put themselves at risk, and really took away one of the strengths of our defense. in a way, our offense has looked good partly because defense and special teams can usually account for at least one touchdoen per game the first half of the season. The Cavs took care of the ball, we didn’t. The -5 turnover margin in the two losses are what cost this team more than anything else, and the +13 margin in five victories tended to hide flaws that have been present all season, but are only truly discussed in the past 72 hours.

(photo from IC)

I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. Let me make this clear: I am disappointed in this loss, as I am in any loss. I am disappointed in the playcalling, especially in the last two minutes and overtime. And I am especially disappointed that this game extended a road losing streak and pretty much put UNC out of the Coastal division race.

However, this team has been a success this season, and will be a success no matter what. UNC is 5-2 through seven games, and the first time in 11 years that we could say that. The Heels were ranked for consecutive weeks in the regular season for the first time since 1997. With the possible exception of 2001, this is by far our best team since the Mack Brown era. In August anything 7-5 or better would have been considered a rousing success, and the Heels are going to accomplish that barring a total collapse.

The team is not going to fret over this game. They are going to take the lessons from this game and work this week with extra motivation. Most importantly, they are going to move on and look forward to BC this Saturday. I strongly that we, the fans, do the same.

UNC vs. Virginia Live Blog

Program pic via Tar Heel Times

UNC has yet to win in Charlottesville during the Welsh/Groh era. Will that change today? Will Brooks Foster/Cooter Arnold/Greg Little/Kenton Thornton/some other player step nup in the absence of Brandon Tate? Can UNC stop Virginia’s running game? Why am I still asking these questions? Let’s just watch and enjoy. Click on the blue letters below for the live blog. starting at 3:30.

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Virginia Q&A with Extra P

This week’s Q&A preview of the UNC vs. Virginia game, where the Heels hope to end the Hooville House of Horrors, comes from Eric “Extra P” Angevine, co-editor of Storming The Floor, Charlottesville resident, Virginia fan, and freelancer extraordinaire.

1. After the 31-3 loss to Duke (!!!), this Cavaliers team seemed dead in the water. Since then, they?ve beaten Maryland and East Carolina by a combined score of 66-23. The return of running back Cedric Peerman has obviously helped, but one player can?t possibly be responsible for the 59 point swing between the Duke loss and the Maryland victory. What has changed in the last few weeks?

Cedric Peerman didn’t even carry the offense against Maryland. He simply made the most of his 17 carries, with 6.5 yards per carry, and a long run of 35 yards. I guess Cedric represents the threat of the big play for Virginia. The offensive line clearly pepped up a bit, as QB Marc Verica was only sacked once in each game after the Duke loss, and seemed to have more time to find his targets. The defense was stout against the Terps, but started bending again vs. East Carolina, giving up 20 points, so I’m not sure what to make of that side of the ball just yet.

2. Back to the subject of Cedric Peerman. In Chapel Hill last year, he torched the Tar Heels defense with 186 rushing yards. Carolina’s defense, admittedly, is vulnerable to giving up yardage and somewhat dependent on turnovers (#1 in the nation in TO margin). How effective do you think Peerman can be?

If he gets enough touches, odds are Cedric will get his. As I mentioned above, Peerman isn’t being run into the line 20 times a game – Mikell Simpson is still getting 12-15 carries per game. But Peerman was also the leading reciever against East Carolina with eight catches, so clearly Al Groh is trying to get his star RB out in space by any means necessary.

3. Much has been made about Virginia’s 3-4 defense. How do you expect the Tar Heels to handle it?

I believe the conventional wisdom holds that a team should pass early to open up the run. Forcing the linebackers to tend to their coverage duties early in the game should open up some holes and keep pressure off the QB. Don’t tell Coach Groh I told you that.

4. The Tar Heels last won at Charlottesville in 1981. George Welsh was hired in 1982. Clearly, this isn’t a coincidence. Prior to this year, when was the best chance UNC had to end their streak in the Hooville House of Horrors? (the 1996 game still gives me chills.)

I am a terrible choice to answer this question, as I only moved to Cville in 2000. Under those circumstances, your choice of 1996 seems like a good one. There were a lot of NFL-bound ‘Hoos on that team, and a raucous full house at the game, so maybe this year is it.

5. Last, but certainly not least, I’m gonna need a prediction. What happens on Saturday?

Hmmm. UNC has a lot on the line here – they want to win in Cville, become bowl eligible, and stay on course to the ACC championship game. My gut tells me they’re focused enough to do it, even in the face of UVA’s resurgence. The one danger sign that really stands out to me when I look at UNC’s stats, however, is the fact that opponents are putting up more yards than the Heels, both rushing and throwing. If the UNC defense doesn’t clamp down, this could be an upset.
Since I’ve been such a downer so far, I’ll delight everyone by making the homer pick – UVA continues their home streak against the Heels to the tune of 27-23. After the game, Al Groh thanks Clemson and Tommy Bowden for scaring him straight.

Address the Mess: Slow Starts

Address the Mess is a new feature to discuss some of the problems Carolina Football faced last season, and how the team might correct them. Not that we’re in a mess; far from it. But in the parity (bad-ness-ness-ness-ness) of the ACC, where Carolina played in 8 games decided by a touchdown or less, successfully addressing even one of these issues can be worth an extra win or two. Today we start with the Tar Heels’ struggles in the first and third quarters.

The Problem: “Hello, uh…Mr.  Yates? Coach? O-Line? D-backs? Hi, my name is Mike. I’m a big fan of yours. Listen, uh just so you know, it’s ehmmm about 12:30, which means the football game you guys are a part of has, uh already started, so I just wanted you a friendly reminder to, uhh START PLAYING LIKE IT! Okay, good to see you, and good luck.”

Is this an accurate description of you, the Tar Heel fan, circa last season? If so, I understand. In Carolina’s eight close games, opponents outscored UNC 123-71 in the first and third quarters, and in four of our twelve games the Heels were shut out in those quarters. Conversely, UNC outscored its FBS opponents 126-83 in the second and fourth quarters and overtime Extrapolated, that’s a swing of more than 20 points per game when the outcome was determined by a touchdown or less.

The Reasons: The Heels had just appeared to be sluggish out of the gate. It’s difficult to know exactly why, but two trends presented themselves in the first and third quarters more than anything else.

The most obvious (and correctable) problem is turnovers. First quarters were littered with interceptions, almost-interceptions, and a failed fourth-and-goal conversion against Georgia Tech (a turnover in spirit) caused by a dropped touchdown pass. These kinds of mental mistakes would fill an entire article, but this is an inexperienced team, and in this case turnovers are only part of the story.

A larger and more subtle theme at the start of games has been the inability to control the line of scrimmage. The offensive line, with only one experienced starter (Scott Lenahan), were particularly vulnerable in the first quarter, getting beat by opposing D-lines consistently. This explains more than anything else why the running game just didn’t work at the start of games, and Yates made bad decisions in the first one or two possessions.

Conversely, the defensive line had some odd lapses to start the game as well, completely uncharacteristic compared to their typical performances later in the game. They allowed Virginia’s Cedric Peerman to run for nearly 100 yards in the first quarter. Virginia Tech’s only big offensive play came on the second play from scrimmage, a 54-yard run by Eddie Royal to set up their first touchdown. And Chris Smelley lit up the secondary to help South Carolina gain a 14 point lead in the first quarter. Carolina came back in all of these games after correcting their defensive issues.

The Solution: There isn’t a very clear-cut way to deal with this particular issue. Protecting the ball obviously helps, keeping both possession and momentum in your favor early in the game. The offensive line also has to do its job. It’s difficult to get much of anything done if the O-line gets pushed 2-3 yards into the backfield. On defense, it’s about controlling the line of scrimmage early in the game. That shouldn’t be a problem for the defensive tackles, but Carolina may show a bit of weakness at the ends. If Carolina puts E.J. Wilson on one side of the line and QUANTAVIUS THE MAGNIFICENT behind the other DE, it should probably patch up any glaring issues at the line.

The Tally: Many other factors belie whether or not a team gets off to a good start in a game, but at least breaking even in the first and third quarters should be worth an extra 1.5 to 2.5 victories this season.

(Photo: Inside Carolina/Jim Hawkins)

UVA 8, UNC 7, ACC Baseball Tournament: Um…Ow.

I have four requests:

1. Please don’t fret over this game alone. The Heels are going to gets a Super Regional, and at this point that’s all that matters. Watching the pitching staff struggle like that can be a bit unnerving, but this team finished the regular season #1 for a reason.

2. No more games that end at 1:30 in the morning. Please.

3. Can’t our pitching staff just have a three up, three down inning, like a normal good baseball team?

4. To have frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads! Now obviously my cycloptic colleague tells me this can’t be done. What do we have?

Sea bass.

Rrrrriiiiiiiighhht.

Well…they are…MUTATED…Sea bass.

Really? are they ill-tempered?

Oh, absolutely.

Well that’s a start.

Ty Lawson Continues to Set Records for Minutes on Bench With Look of Disappointment

lawson_ap_garybroome.jpg
Best of luck to Ty Lawson and his recovery, because we really, really, really need him. But I can’t get over the look on his face whenever the camera shows him. Meanwhile, Carolina comes away with yet another narrow conference victory, this time 75-74 on the road against Virginia.